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A brilliant teacher and ‘the perfect gentleman’ – Wonderful tribute paid to the late Brother Gerald Macken

Brother Gerald Macken

Brother Gerald Macken sadly passed away on January 2 in what was his 90th year. 

Originally from Ballaghaderreen in Roscommon, Gerald had a strong association with Castletown where he first came to in 1946 to join the De La Salle Brothers. 

After a remarkable life, Brother Gerald returned to Laois in 2016 where he lived until his sad passing last week. 

Rosenallis native Brother Kevin McEvoy gave a wonderful tribute during the funeral Mass celebrated by Fr Joe Walsh OFM and Fr Walter Cook on January 5. 

With his permission, we will print it in full below:

We gather this afternoon to pray for the soul of Brother Gerald Macken, to thank the Lord for the many ways in which He gifted him during his life, especially for the many human qualities with which he was gifted, his friendly, outgoing personality, his humble and warm engagement with the Lasallian community, his calm and insightful response to the many and varied events that came his way over the past sixty years or so.

I would like to extend my heartfelt sympathy to Ger’s friends and relatives in the town and hinterland of his native Ballaghadereen, the numerous past pupils both in Ireland and abroad whose lives he touched during the course of his own life, but, especially, I would like to offer my sincere sympathies to the Brothers and staff in Miguel House who have been Ger’s family since he arrived there from Kilmacud, Dublin, in 2016.

Michael or Micheál Macken was born on 14 September, 1932, to Joseph and Lily Macken – just three months after the International Eucharistic Congress which was held in Dublin that year.

He was the third born of five children: James was the eldest in the family and he set the trend for the other members of the family when he left home for Castletown to join the De La Salle Brothers in 1942.

Joseph departed for Bordeaux as a teenager and became a priest in the Diocese of Agen where he spent his active life in ministry.

Michael came to Castletown in 1946 – the same year as Brother Malachy Buckley – and Winifred (Winnie) the only girl in the family left home and joined the Sisters of Charity while the youngest in the family, John who remained at home was a well-known and lefelong member of the local branch of Saint Vincent de Paul.

I found in our archives the fine memoir entitled “An Irish Monk’s Story” written by Ger’s older brother James who  predeceased Ger by ten years.

He describes very eloquently the Gaelic Catholic Ireland of his youth, the grinding poverty and the haemorrhaging of its youth in its thousands through emigration.

And I quote: “I saw them leaving every Friday on the 3pm train from our railway station. Such scenes of sadness and signs of heart-broken sorrow. They were young, poor, ignorant and badly dressed in second-hand clothes and had “Poor Irish” written all over them. I never saw a priest or a politician there; I was always there with my friend and when we looked at each other we also knew that we were witnessing something desperate but couldn’t put words on it.”

The writer and journalist, John Healy” tried to put words on this topic and did so with considerable success in 1988 in his book “No One Shouted Stop”.

Brother Ger in Mauritius

That was the backdrop for the Macken family in the thirties and the forties and it was no wonder that four members of the family chose to go down the church route when it came to life-decisions.

James wrote: “I had been consecrated to the Blessed Virgin as a babe in arms and wore only blue and white for the first seven years of my life.”

His mother didn’t want him to become just a priest, but a bishop! But both James and Micheál were attracted to the life of the Brothers because they played sports and they greeted you on the street – unlike the priests who were “always scowling and giving out to people!” (Apologies to Father Joe & Fr Watt!)

So Micheál came to the Juniorate here in Castletown in September 1946 and Brother Malachy pickes up the story: “After a few days when everybody had settled in we had a sing-song and Michael volunteered with the song that was to become his party-piece throughout his life: “The West’s Awake”. He was introduced as a past pupils of the Brothers’ School in Ballaghadereen; I expected to find a fine footballer or hurler – to my disappointment, he was neither; his skills lay elsewhere.”  

Ger worked his way through Castletown, Faithlegg and Waterford Training College after which he was posted to the primary school in Castlebar where he spent six happy years – the downside of those years were the tragic death of Brother Prudentius Leo while he was out cycling and the burning down of the primary school.

His six years in Castlebar were followed by a further six years on the island of Mauritius – three years in Rose Hill and three years in Curepipe – but, unlike his brother James who was to spend almost fifty years in the Far East, Ger was a homebird and returned to Ireland and Ballyfermot where he was to spend his next five years during which time he attended evening lectures in UCD in preparation for is BA Degree.

Brother Raymond says of him: “While in Ballyfermot, Gerald taught deaf children  and he was inventive and creative in getting aids to help these children.  He was a marvellous community man and he got on well with confreres and lay staff alike.  He was always gentle and humble.  He was a good colleague.  He was continually praising and looking up to others. He was very sociable and looked forward to feast days.  His party piece then was ‘On the Road to Mandalay’.

In 1971, Ger spent a brief period as headmaster in Roebuck before he was transferred to Faithlegg in 1973 where he was to spend the next four years.

Brother Pat Collier remembers his time in Faithlegg: “Ger provided  a secure, supportive and caring situation  for each and every student, ensuring peace of mind for their parents, memorable experience for the boys and always friendly and fun loving. He fostered an atmosphere of self-discipline, offering the students every opportunity to handle responsibility social confidence and self-assurance.”

Patrick O’Donoghue who was also a member of the community then wrote: “Ger was a very kind-hearted man and treated everyone with respect. He was always pleasant in company with his entertaining anecdotes and enquiring mind. Ger had a positive attitude to whatever life threw at him and often saw opportunities when others saw problems. I learned a lot from this good man. Beannacht Dé lena anam uasal.  

Ger’s transfer to Loughrea in 1977 coincided with the arrival in the community of three young energetic Brothers – Larry Cahill, Tim Cadogan and myself – who would make the twenty-three mile trip for lectures to Galway until 1980.

Tim Cadogan wrote: “Ger was a decent person. I remember he replaced Vincent Byrne in Loughrea in 1977. This was not an easy act to follow as Vincent was very popular and well established in Loughrea.”

Tim continues: “One thing I must say that I found him very supportive and he used to visit me in my room and talk about my studies.” Larry Cahill continues in the same vein: “He treated us Student Brothers with respect and he showed an interest in what we were studying and in how things were going for us in College.”  And both men alluded to the fact that Ger found conflict difficult to deal with and was quick to intervene in order to defuse any awkward or trying situations that occurred in Community. Tim concludes: “I found him to be the perfect gentleman.”

Ger spent almost twenty years of his life in Kilmacud either on the staff in Benildus College or as a member of the Benildus Pastoral Centre team.

Tim O’Neill wrote: “We taught for a while together in Benildus where we cheerfully disagreed on occasion usually about ‘modern art’ which Ger thought  to be rubbish! Ger was a straightforward honest man. I remember jokingly punning on the name Macken – ‘An Bráthair Macánta’ I called him – for he was always gentle, honest and sincere. St John 1.47 sums him up for me “The Lord said of Nathaniel: ‘Behold a man in whom there is no guile.’”

Brother Finbarr Murphy remembers Ger for “his friendly, fraternal manner. On a casual, informal visit from Kenya to Benildus community in the winter of 2000, I remember Gerald approaching me tactfully, with a rather unusual request. He begins by pointing out how cold the weather can become. And wasn’t the first snow visible on the Dublin Mountains? His concern was that I, even only a casual guest of the community, wasn’t properly clad for the winter.

“In his view, I needed a ‘proper winter overcoat!’ I was touched by his practical gesture of hospitality. Some years later I was asked to be Director of the community, while helping out at the Pastoral Centre. True to form, Gerald was always gentle and considerate.”

Of Ger’s time in Kilmacud, Brother Francis remembers: “Ger was highly respected by the Benildus Pastoral Team. Being in charge of the furnace he made sure they had the required heating.

“He would also join them in a chat and give them advice and support on how to manage young people. He admired the work they were doing in the Lasallian mission and encouraged them along the way. He was very supportive of the new venture, the Pastoral Centre right in the Brothers’ community home.”

And Chris Kelleher said: “Ger was always on call and he was very obliging when it came to driving the Brothers to different places or driving to the supermarket for the weekly shopping.”

Michele Sinnott also remembers Ger for his welcome and support of the Benildus Pastoral Team while he was based in Kilmacud.

“Brother Gerald was always such a gentle and welcoming presence in Benildus. From the very birth of the Pastoral Centre, he opened his arms in welcome to me as Director and each staff member who worked with us over the years. A quiet man, he was always respectfully conscious of not intruding on us, as we were of him, but he often popped his head inside the staffroom door, with cheer in his voice, just to say a quick hello, to see how we were, to wish us well for the day, the term, the year.

He enjoyed sharing a little bit of news or seeking a little in relation to whatever group we were welcoming that day. His intentions were always good and kindly towards the staff of the Pastoral Centre and indeed to the visiting teachers, many of whom enjoyed a friendly chat with him at the bottom of the stairs as he breezed past, maybe returning from his from his daily outing to Mass, his walk, or simply en route upstairs to his room from the Brothers dining room or kitchen. 

He was an intelligent man, well-read, whose words of wisdom often gave us all something to ponder about. Br. Gerald was a man of prayer in His Deepest Interior Place. 

His time in prayer and receiving the Eucharist each day were important to him. His commitment to his God was always very tangible to me. 

Michele then goes on to relate an incident which sums up Ger’s nature and the kind of soul he was: “I was in work a bit later than normal one evening, as there was some decorating work going on inside.

“It was almost dark and I noticed a little visitor in the shape of a fox when it almost ran into the Centre, as the outside doors were open for materials coming in. With my love of animals, I was dying to get a photo of him. Br Gerald happened to arrive on the scene and said he’d be back in a minute.

“Sure enough, he came back with a plate of steak cut up in little pieces! The Brothers supper! I hesitated but he insisted! He was on cooking duty! “Ah sure what about it!”, he said. He knew it would hold the fox there until my husband  arrived from some distance with my camera! The kindly spirit of Br. Gerald and his heart of gold highlighted, as he enjoyed the scene that unfolded.

I have a rare photo of the fox, eating from my husband’s hand, the steak which was due to be served up to the Brothers later that evening! Only for Br. Gerald’s kindness, it would never have been possible!”

Of course, Ger’s community and home have been here in Castletown and particularly Miguel House since 2016.

His confreres in MH and all the staff members had come to know and love Ger in a way that is quite unique to Miguel and I have witnessed that love up close and personal since my arrival here last September.

Brother Stephen conducted a short survey among the staff on the qualities that came to mind when they thought of Ger and, in a way, it’s a fine summary of what has been said up to now. Here are the responses: “Humble, welcoming, patient, a peacemaker, a great Brother for community sing-songs, a Brother who shunned the limelight, a quiet, humble and gently Brother who was a loyal companion and friend and whose deep spirituality enabled him to deal with challenging issues with great faith and equanimity.”

And, on a personal note, Stephen continued: “One other thing I recall about him was his great love for his native town Ballaghadereen. If I stopped off on my way to Castlebar or if I was attending a funeral in Ballaghadereen, I would be taken on a tour of the town ending in his favourite restaurant for coffee and scones.”

We thank God for the wonderful work and service given so unselfishly by Br. Gerald during his lifetime. He touched the lives of many people in all the schools and places he worked. We have lost a great Brother and friend. He was a man who was close to God and Mary.

We thank once again Teresa, Br Martin, all the staff in Miguel House and Doctors Paddy and Robbie for their love and care of Ger since his arrival here.We know that he is now with the Lord and enjoying the happiness of eternal life.

I’ll conclude with a lovely prayer Michele Sinnott included in her submission:

Ger, may the Light of Day fade gently around your humble resting place amongst your confreres gone before you,

May the Welcome Mat of God, as you fully arrive Beyond, bear the weave of all your Goodness in Life,

May your Continued Journey into The Greater Light be easy,

And may your  Beautiful Soul be released in faith and rest forever in Deepest Peace.

Brother Gerald on Christmas Day 2021

Thank you Michele. Thank you Ger. Go dtuga Dia suaimhneas síoraí dá anam uasal. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Brother Kevin McEvoy fsc

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